Dr. Walker, part I


Dr. Walker, part I


The only woman ever awarded the Medal of Honor - the US military’s highest decoration - was a genderqueer Civil War surgeon named Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.

Walker was a suffragist, a veteran and POW, and a talented doctor who challenged convention in every way.

She campaigned for dress reform for decades, before & after the war and as an officer of the Dress Reform Assoc. She was deeply disappointed in Lucy Stone, ElizCadyStanton & others who agreed with the cause but gave up on it.

She was briefly married to a man, a fellow doctor.

They omitted “obey” from their 1855 vows. She kept her name - they hung out a shingle as Drs. Walker & Miller.

It took them twice as many years to get divorced as they spent married. Walker fought for divorce reform for the rest of her life.

Turned down in her attempts to join the Union army, Walker volunteered at first. She finally got a contract, and proved able and unflappable - but still couldn’t get a formal commission.

So she appealed to President Lincoln directly. Referring to herself, she asks:

“[T]hat she may render aid in the field hospitals, where her energy, enthusiasm, professional abilities and patriotism will be of the greatest service in inspiring the true soldier never to yield to traitors, and in attending the wounded brave.

“She will not shrink from duties under shot and shells, believing that her life is of no value in the country’s greatest peril if by its loss the interests of future generations shall be promoted. - Mary E. Walker, M.D.”

Lincoln demurs, but she finds a way. Photo in uniform.

The @AmerMedicalAssn tried hard to block her - both b/c of sexism and resistance to “eclectic” or what today we’d call alternative & homeopathic medicine.

Recall: traditional medical schools wouldn’t admit women then, so the line between credentialing & sexism is a thin one.

Walker challenged the status quo always. Early in her military days she questioned unnecessary amputations, quietly counseling soldiers to refuse if she thought the limb could be saved.

She took a 2d degree to study hygiene, which the medical establishment dismissed as fluff.

After the war she wanted to be a doctor for the Freedmen’s Bureau, but they weren’t hiring outspoken women.

Dr. Walker was famous, which biographer Sharon Harris says is what she wanted - and got, thanks to her "accomplishments, her unique personality, and her appearance."

Dr. Walker was a committed suffragist who used her public profile to advance the cause. Like Anna Dickinson in the same period, she was only lightly affiliated with the 2 big movement groups. Walker was wary of both factions, though cooperated w/both Lucy Stone & Stanton/Anthony.

Dr. Walker is the first woman known to try and vote in New York, in her hometown of Oswego. It was 1867, early in what becomes known as the New Departure, a strategy of voting as civil disobedience.

Tomorrow: So, was Walker queer? Trans?


Daily Suffragist




Dr. Walker in uniform
Dr. Walker with medal
Dr. Walker part I thread


Daily Suffragist, “Dr. Walker, part I,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 19, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/5.

Output Formats